Authoritarianism and the Escape from Freedom
Regardless of the shifts now occurring in our world of knowledge, we seem to remain confused about what is “real” and often don’t trust our direct experience. We are facing many contradictions. We move with great reluctance (and considerable grieving) to a recognition that reality is being constructed for us and that we need to attend not only to the constructions, but also to the interests and motives of those who tend the fire and block images on the wall of the cave. We must also identify and examine the agenda of those who offer us their interpretations (including those of us who offer psychological insights). Can Plato’s cave and his dynamic perspective on the nature of truth and reality provide us with the opportunity to gain insights about the nature of the cave? What about the world that is projected onto the walls of the cave, and the nature and agenda of the interpreters? And lest we forget, Plato (and Socrates) had their own agendas many centuries ago that influence the way we look at the cave and the wall. Perhaps there isn’t really a cave or wall.
We should also consider whether or not to step outside the cave. Can we actually leave the cave? Is it safer to remain inside the cave then to venture outside without the help of interpreters? Should we (and can we) face the profound challenge of unmediated experiences outside the cave? As we step outside the cave, are we likely to confront some objective reality through our experience, or is the experience itself constantly shifting depending on setting, context, interpersonal relationships and the nature of our own past experience? Are we just moving to another cave? Is the entrance to our cave nothing more than the entrance to an adjoining cave?
Imprisonment in the Cave: An Expanded Version
Our increasing knowledge about the cognitive and emotional processes in which humans engage pushes us to an even more challenging perspective. The allegory offered by Socrates (through the voice of Plato) is actually much more extensive than the version I have offered. Plato provides us with more detail about life inside the cave and about what might occur if one cave dweller is allowed to step outside the cave and then returns to the cave. Profound implications emerge from this expanded version–and further questions arise about the role to be played by leaders and other cave dwellers in addressing these implications.
Inside the cave, its inhabitants (as prisoners) are chained so that their legs and necks are fixed, forcing them to gaze at the wall in front of them and not look around the cave, Behind the prisoners is the fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway with a low wall. People walk behind the wall—so their bodies do not cast shadows for the prisoners to see, but the objects they carry do. Prisoners cannot see any of this behind them and are only able to see the shadows cast upon the cave wall in front of them. The sounds of the people as they talk echo off the shadowed wall, and the prisoners falsely believe these sounds come from the shadows.